Strategy 3, Landscapes – Rapid Changes. Habitation and Environments
Stone Age site by Kolsfettangen, Hol, Buskerud. Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO / Elizabeth Skjelsvik
Our world experiences major changes in climate and landscape; this continuous process is now more dramatic than at any time since the Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. Archaeology and anthropological approaches to archaeology can together provide insight into short- and long-term consequences of climate change.
A long-term perspective can enable us to track how rapid ice melting and a swift rise in land levels in the Stone Age coastlines stimulated cultural creativity. Dramatic flood and avalanche situations may require reorganisation and adaptation. The settlement and climate crisis in the 6th century also necessitated change, and may have laid the foundation for the settlement structure in Scandinavia until the 19th century. From an archaeological perspective, it is interesting to trace the intentional and non-intentional consequences of major changes, such as the rise of agriculture and extensive land clearing.
The “deterministic” ecology and geohistory of the 1970s, where man was perceived as a passive mirror, “trapped” by the world around, have been replaced with perspectives of an actor in time and space performing actions to affect the environment; such perspectives also include dynamic, heterogeneous interaction between people, landscapes, animals and other non-human creatures.
Climate change today demands new knowledge about humanity in crisis situations. Both anthropological and archaeological knowledge can provide insight into how people cope with crises. The Museum of Cultural History already possesses extensive data that can be used to research known change processes, while new material collected from excavations and anthropological studies continually raises new questions. Such material can illuminate crises and cultural changes of direction but also stability and enduring patterns. Archaeological studies can provide insights into the social and technical strategies previously used in the face of fundamental changes in climate and life circumstances, and whether these can be considered successful in a long-term perspective.
Anthropologists at the Museum have considerable expertise in the interaction between people and their environment and the complex relational networks involved. How people understand nature and what makes it a constant or changing entity are key elements in anthropological research. Equally important are changes in the resource base and their consequences for economic, political, social and cultural relations.
In times of crisis, interdisciplinary approaches to adaptations to nature are of particular importance. Archaeology and anthropology complement each other as studies of the past and present. Meanwhile, natural science methodologies enhance our understanding of the evolution of vegetation and fauna, and can shed light on how the environment has been changed and shaped by human activity in the past.
From an archaeological point of view, knowledge originating from artefacts can be supplemented by visualisation tools such as GIS, photogrammetry and LiDAR. The Museum’s development of map-based interfaces will transform databases into virtual arenas showing landscape changes and how they have arisen and arise. Similarly, the digital field museum will be a forum where the collections will be available for research and dissemination in the field, and where field-based knowledge generation enters the museum directly, with feedback from research on related artefacts.
For anthropologists, digital tools are both a research focus and a tool for knowledge exchange. GIS comes at the end of a long series of mapping practices that have had major political and ecological consequences throughout history, and is today of great significance in modern management of nature and landscape. The database of ethnographic objects, like the archaeological databases, is a source of comparative studies of adaptations to nature in both time and space. Digital tools are used to exchange information between museums and with source communities.